City schools chief wants single-gender classes to end
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Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Linda Lane recommended on Monday that the troubled George Westinghouse Academy in Homewood -- which opened this fall as the Academy at Westinghouse -- discontinue single-gender classes by February.
Ms. Lane said she decided to make the change because she was dissatisfied with statements made during staff training for single-gender classes and because the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to take legal action over the single-gender program.
"We think that a long, costly defense would just distract us from the main goal. The main goal is quality education," she said.
Ms. Lane said she will ask the board to vote on ending the program at its meeting Nov. 22.
Sara Rose, a staff attorney for the ACLU, said Monday that the organization agreed not to pursue legal action when the school district agreed to end all single- gender classes by February.
As part of the agreement, the school district also will have to notify the ACLU before it creates any additional single-gender classes in the district over the next three years, she said.
As for the staff training, Ms. Lane said, "I wasn't comfortable with some of the things that were stated to be characteristics of girls or characteristics of boys. I wasn't comfortable with it, and I don't think most people would have been."
She declined to elaborate on the shortcomings of the training provided to the school's staff, but said she believes the district can offer "a strong educational model" without single gender classes.
The grade 6-12 school replaced Westinghouse High School and was intended to offer single-gender classes. When the legality of such classes arose, the district offered to let students opt out of the classes by choosing another school but still provided single-gender classes in academic subjects.
Westinghouse had 622 students at the end of September.
The school has been beset with reports of disorganization, class schedule delays and disruptive student behavior.
Last week, the district placed two co-principals, Shawn McNeil and Kellie Abbott, on paid administrative leave.
On Monday, two new administrators arrived at Westinghouse. While their appointments still must be formally approved by the school board, Ms. Lane has recommended that Shemeca Crenshaw, now principal of Pittsburgh Weil Accelerated Learning Academy PreK-5 in the Hill District, become acting principal of Westinghouse, and Brandon George, who was serving as an assistant principal at Pittsburgh Brashear High School in Beechview, become acting assistant principal at Westinghouse.
Ms. Lane said that both have worked at Westinghouse before -- including a stint as principal for Ms. Crenshaw -- and that Mr. George had been involved in Westinghouse planning.
Other changes also are being made at Westinghouse.
The academy was going to use a system of trimesters, rather than the standard semesters. But it will be changed to a semester system. Ms. Lane said the work needed to rewrite the curriculum to fit a trimester schedule was never done.
She said there are also efforts to address "organizational issues" by creating rituals and routines that will help to resolve student behavior.
The academy began as a magnet school open to students from throughout the city, but Ms. Lane said the school likely will be removed from magnet status at least temporarily. She said it wasn't certain whether a special theme would be developed for the school.
Ms. Lane reiterated her desire to change the status quo at Westinghouse this fall because students were doing so poorly. She noted Monday that it was among the 5 percent of the lowest performing schools in the state.
"We want it to be excellent," she said.
She said she couldn't pretend to be satisfied with how things are now, but she said, "I believe we're compelled to get adults to work together on behalf of students. I know there have been multiple adult controversies over everything from whether the single-gender class thing and other things."
She said the students' welfare is "going to have to come first."
First Published November 8, 2011 12:00 am